The U.N. Children's Fund says the number of orphans and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe continues to rise as the country's social and economic situation continues to sink. UNICEF is appealing to the international community to support the hundreds of thousands of children in Zimbabwe who are deprived of the most basic needs. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
If the latest economic statistics compiled by international agencies are any indication, Zimbabwe's economy is in shambles. The International Monetary Fund reports inflation skyrocketed to 1,600 percent in January. Unemployment is very high. The population is getting poorer.
The U.N. Children's Fund says Zimbabwe's children are suffering from an orphan crisis that is depriving them of the chance for education and good health.
UNICEF Spokesman, Damien Personnaz, says Zimbabwe has a population of 15 million, of whom an alarming two million are vulnerable children.
"We know that one in four Zimbabwean children is an orphan. So that is quite a lot. We are talking about 250,000 children being orphaned in Zimbabwe. It is difficult to know exactly the right figure because it is difficult to get access to official figures, but it is quite a high number," said Personnaz. "We know that this prevalence of HIV/AIDS has dropped in recent years in Zimbabwe thanks to a lot of preventative measures, which have been put in place. But, the number of orphans basically remains the same and the number of vulnerable children continues to rise."
UNICEF says orphaned and vulnerable children are more likely to be deprived of basic goods. It says they have psychological problems and many are subjected to forced sex in adolescence.
Personnaz tells VOA these children suffer discrimination from their own families and communities. He says UNICEF works with local aid agencies to try to enroll these children in schools and to protect them from violence, abuse and exploitation.
"Because they are being ostracized or stigmatized are basically left on their own in the cities and, of course, this is a very dangerous place for them to be," he added. "What we also try to do is to boost some school nutrition programs together with the World Food Program. We have a major program in doing that. It is very important to have access to these kids. School is one of the main entry points for all the humanitarian organizations including UNICEF to have access to these children."
Personnaz says children who stay in school stay out of trouble. He says one way to keep them at school is through the feeding program.
UNICEF is calling on international donors to support Zimbabwe's National Action Plan for orphans and vulnerable children. It says more than $250 million is needed for the five-year program. The plan aims to help 350,000 children this year.